By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean military is pushing to deploy spy satellites to strengthen its surveillance of North Korea, a senior military official said Wednesday, in light of growing missile and nuclear threats from the communist country.
South Korea currently operates Arirang-3, a multipurpose satellite, which provides geographical information on the Korean Peninsula including North Korea's missile and nuclear test sites. However, it still relies on the United States for much of its intelligence due to the commercial satellite's limited vision and longer rotation period.
"Although the South Korean military can mobilize various intelligence assets to monitor the North Korean military's activities, its capability is limited in observing the control command and supporting facilities in the North," a senior military official said under anonymity, as he is not authorized to talk to media. "To be able to independently monitor the enemy's activities, the military will include deployment of military spy satellites in the mid- and long-term plan."
The official did not provide further details on the envisioned plan, which would cost time and lots of money to implement.
With adding reconnaissance satellites to its monitoring capabilities, the military hopes to increase its surveillance of major North Korean military facilities to better anticipate aggressive actions from the communist state.
As part of increasing its defense capabilities, Seoul is in the process of developing longer-range missiles capable of hitting all of North Korea. The plan is to deploy them by the end of 2015 to coincide with Seoul regaining its wartime operational control of its troops from Washington.
"We need spy satellites for the military to more effectively monitor North Korea ahead of the wartime operational control transition," the official said.
Demands for advanced spy satellites increased after the North successfully launched a long-range rocket in December. The North is currently threatening to conduct a third nuclear test in response to the U.N. sanction enforced to punish the North for its December launch. The pressure for Seoul to build its surveillance capabilities has been building even more since Japan sent two spy satellites into orbit last month to better monitor the bellicose communist state.
Pyongyang claims its rocket launch was to put an Earth observation satellite into orbit, but the action has been widely seen as a test of its ballistic missile technology.
Aside from developing spy satellites, the Air Force is considering an early warning satellite system, which can detect missiles, spacecraft launches and nuclear explosions using sensors that can detect the infrared emissions from these intense sources of heat, according to officials.
The latest move comes as South Korea prepares to swear in President-elect Park Geun-hye on Feb. 25. Park has repeatedly warned the North to not go through with a third nuclear test.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
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